The family of the man who died in a Saskatoon Police detention cell say they want to pressure police and government to prevent future tragedies and may seek legal action if nothing is done.
“Somebody needs to be held accountable, because he was not in a good way. This shouldn’t have happened,” Michael Ryan’s step brother Terance Grady said Saturday.
Ryan, 38, was arrested Friday when police received reports of a man running into oncoming traffic at 22nd Street and Avenue P around 12:20 p.m. He was charged with breach of court conditions and outstanding warrants, and a report said he appeared intoxicated.
Ryan was found dead in his holding cell a couple hours later. Police have not said whether Ryan received medical attention at any point between when he was arrested and when he was found dead in his cell.
Ryan’s sister Davida said she will miss the person who was always there for her when she needed help. She said her brother had struggled with substance abuse and he had come to Saskatoon three weeks ago from Alberta to start over. He had attended rehab and the family was trying to get his life back on track, she said.
The family is angry Ryan did not get medical attention.
“If I see somebody in any sort of medical distress, let’s not arrest them, let’s get them the help they need,” Davida said.
Grady said he feels police are not properly trained to deal with new drugs, such as fentanyl, which are making their way onto Saskatoon streets.
“With all these new drugs that are on the streets… with all the deaths that have happened, you would think these guys would not be trying to play doctor,” he said.
Police Chief Clive Weighill said police cannot continue to be the first line of response for mental health and addictions in the city.
A “frustrated” Weiighill said the police station is not a health centre and since becoming chief, has been asking for wider ranging mental health services and an addictions centre in Saskatoon.
“Once again by default these issues are left to be grappled with by the police,” he said.
“People falling off a cliff and rather than putting up a safety fence we just hire more people to assist those that have fallen.”
Premier Brad Wall addressed the chief’s comments in Saskatoon Monday, saying there has been regular communication between the justice minister and the mayors of Saskatoon and North Battleford.
“We have significantly increased resources in social services and the health region. People will always make the case for more. I’m not going to argue that,” Wall said.
Since the 2011 Action Accord, the Saskatoon Health Region has provided police with $150,000 annually to fund one paramedic position to work 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week at the detention centre. Police indicated night was the time they required a paramedic. The Accord is an agreement between the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, the Saskatoon Health Region, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
Since the Accord was implemented, there has been a decrease in intoxicated detentions. Some people may be transferred to the Lighthouse stabilization unit rather than spend the night in a cell.
Grady would like to have a paramedic at the detention centre at all times.
“I didn’t know addictions were segregated only to night,” he said.
Weighill said more paramedics monitoring their cells is not the answer. He said issues of mental health and addictions needs to be taken a lot more seriously.
“We have to get ahead of this issue.”
Grady said he wants to petition the police and levels of government to change the detainment policies and process. He said if changes are not made to improve care, he would consider the possibility of legal action.
“I want an apology to our family and they’re not even letting us view the body,” he said, adding the family has not received any more information than was stated in an earlier police release.
“The plan is so that no other family has to go through this,” Davida said.
Weighill said the family was allowed to view the body over the weekend. He said victim services is working with them and they are doing their best to respect cultural sensitivities.
The Saskatoon Police Service Major Crime Unit is investigating the death. Saskatchewan Justice has been notified and more information will be released once they can conduct an autopsy.